For the last couple years, we have been getting a lot of submissions from the Bay Area, and a vast majority of those submissions have been nothing short of great. We started joking that we had to travel to see some shows out there and see what was in the water, and those jokes started turning into “no really, we need to get out there.” When we got word that three of Nanobot’s favorites: Rin Tin Tiger, Picture Atlantic and Curious Quail would be performing together for one night in San Jose to kick off the release of Curious Quail’s new album, After the Lights Failed, it was time to put our money where our mouth was.
And boy, am I glad I did, because I figured out what was “in the water,” so to speak, something that Curious Quail front man/Big Rock Show MC Mike Shirley-Donnelly mentioned at the opening: “community.”
Not the recently cancelled television show that Greg likened After the Lights Failed to, but a vibrant and well-connected scene brewing in the Bay Area. While there were many fans to show up, there were also several musicians who came to support others in the trade, share ideas, and challenge each other to continuously raise the bar when it comes to talent and production. And having a venue like the SLG Art Boutiki, a comic book store with a music stage set up in converted warehouse space, a place for musicians to thrive, only helps the cause. For an outsider to the scene, I am extremely envious of all that this part of the country has going for it from an independent music standpoint. But enough of that: on to the Big Rock Show.
The Young Upstarts
Opening the show were the eclectic rock duo of Remi and Chloe with their backing band the Extracts. The set opened with a folk acoustic feel and quickly morphed into a rocking funk, reggae, alternative set complete with a cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.” Remi Wolf’s bombastic, larger-than-life stage swagger and Chloe Day Zilliac’s sweet, folky demeanor were two dynamics that bounced off of each other like particles in the Large Hadron Collider and created equally amazing results.
There were a few moments that I found myself thinking: “that was a false start, they need more reps” and then I caught myself and said: “you idiot, these musicians are IN HIGH SCHOOL. They are light years ahead of everyone else who is not able to vote yet. That guy just SHREDDED that guitar solo; is he going to pull of his face like a mask to reveal Yngwie Malmsteen, complete with feathered hair underneath? Are they really covering Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On?”
They did, and I had to stop taking notes to see if they could stick the landing, and sure enough, they nailed it. Remi hit all the right soul stage moves, showing all the poise one would expect from a former American Idol contestant. I mean, wow, the sky is the limit for these young ladies.
The Rock ‘n’ Folk Professionals
Greg already covered this on Rin Tin Tiger’s Treefort set: “YOU MUST SEE THESE GUYS LIVE!”
No? Fine, I’ll add my two cents.
I’ve argued that these guys get better with each release, that they are starting to show their rock side as their catalog expands. What I didn’t realize was how much presence and command they have when they take the stage. How the haunting beauty of the harmonies in “Sweetest Fruit” get magnified by a thousand when played live, how powerful the title track to “Splinter Remedies” can get, or the majesty of Sean Sullivan’s lustrous locks when you see them in person.
The comical/eccentric stage patter between the Sullivans Sean and Kevin and Andrew Skewes-Cox (a.k.a. Fiddler) only added to the fun of the night, and their robust blend of folk and rock had me uttering the same phrase as anyone else who has had the pleasure of catching one of their shows: YOU MUST SEE THESE GUYS LIVE!
The Polite Mosh Pit
We should just stop there, right? Nah, we’re only halfway through! Picture Atlantic had the task of following those two sets without the luxury of being the host band of an album release party. What did they do? They rocked. They were a sonic powerhouse. They gave us a lot of this face:
Amidst band member turnover, Picture Atlantic was complemented by the presence of two of the members of Finish Ticket (Nick Stein on keys, and Alex DiDonato on guitar) for this set.
There was a ton of rock, a subdued new song by an unaccompanied Nikolaus Bartunek, frenzied drumming by Daniel Martinez, serious bassing by Ryan Blair. There was even a request for polite moshing for the chaos of “Twist,” with Sean Sullivan as the moshpit master of ceremonies. A little something for everyone.
The Band of the Evening
I’m not going to mince words, this was a fantastic show and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been there. This is what I’m going to say about the actual set: This was a release party for After the Lights Failed and the audience got a live version of that album, start to finish.
No fuss, no muss, no long interludes, just the music Mike Shirley-Donnelly wrote and the band arranged that was recorded and mastered and delivered to your door. There were two additions: fan favorite “Disappointed Smiles” and members of the other three bands joined their hosts on stage for an incredibly fun, but slightly disjointed, rendition of “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men with Erin Keely owning the high notes.
It was Frampton Comes Alive, but not really. If you want to know what we thought of that album, you can read it here, and all of that applies to the show. It was what I saw on stage while that music was being played that interests me, the body language of the band members was where everything resided.
I want to get back to the community thing. None of this succeeds without artists who are interested in what the others are doing, are engaged, and are having fun creating amazing sounds. The Curious Quail set (and to an extent, the other bands as well, but it struck me most with theirs) was a microcosm of everything that is right with the independent music scene today. They were having fun, they were engaged, they were interested in what the other members of the band were doing. If Joey Guthrie, Abe Myers, or Alan Chen had a solo, the others would turn to face them and give them the stage for their moment. It was obvious, especially to an outsider like myself that if these five did not love each other, then they at least loved the music (though their admiration for each other seemed pretty apparent).
As much as we preach the value of independent music, it starts and ends with us. No, not Nanobot. Us. Society. People. The community at large. We vote with our wallet. The music landscape is shaped by the currency that pays for it. Whether that currency is buying an album, a ticket, a shirt, or the emotional currency of sharing music we love through writing, sharing a playlist, or bringing a friend to a show, this is how we shape the future of music. The Bay Area is showing us how it is done. Time to get busy.
Clay is a regular contributor and co-founder at Nanobot. He lives in Denver and abandoned his family for a night of music in San Jose and regrets nothing.